Jets fans all week while we’ve waited for the second round to start have likely looked up stats, studied scouting reports and watched film on the Nashville Predators as if they were part of the Winnipeg Jets staff themselves.
But what better way to find out about an opposing hockey team than ask someone who follows the team?
That’s exactly what we’ve done as we’ve sought out the expert opinion of J. Corey Francis of Predlines.com and asked him five questions about the best (regular season) team in hockey to try and find out what makes them tick.
JetsNation: It has sure felt like this match-up between Winnipeg and Nashville has been inevitable for the last few months and now here we are with the two best regular season clubs facing off in the second round. How excited are Predators fans for this match-up?
JCF: I would say Predators fans are excited, but cautious. The match-up between the Predators and Jets has been predicted for some time, and it is safe to say many Preds fan believe this is the most demanding series in all the playoffs.
JetsNation: PK Subban was recently named as one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy which feels like a bit of a surprise on a team with Roman Josi and even Ryan Ellis even though Ellis missed a bunch of time. Has PK really been the Preds best defenseman this season?
JCF: Nashville does a great set of defensemen, and it is difficult to say which is better than the others. There are numbers that support the case of Subban to be a Norris Finalist, but numbers also show Josi or Ellis is better.
One number that is often not considered is zone starts. Of all defensemen on the team, no one has a higher percentage of defensive zone starts than Subban, which is about 10% higher than Ellis or Josi. When you are starting in the defensive zone, you are going to see more shots and scoring chances. Subban leads the group in takeaways and in point shares. Nevertheless, it is a great group of defensemen.
JetsNation: Nashville’s offense is often overlooked, but they boast 13 players who hit double digits in goal scoring – would have been 14 if Ryan Ellis had been healthy. Do the Preds see players like Viktor Arvidsson or Filip Forsberg as players that can maybe change a game with a single shot, or does the scoring by committee method suit this team just fine?
JCF: I think yes to both. Forsberg has the ability to create a shot, which can push him to another level. He can take over a game, as can Arvidsson. But, the Predators enjoy scoring depth. During the regulars season games between the Jets and Predators, it was Kyle Turris, Kevin Fiala, and Craig Smith that have 15 points, including 6 goals at 5v5 and two more on the power play. If the team needs one player to take over, they have that. Or, the entire time can join in.
JetsNation: This time last year, Nashville was the lowest seed team of the 2017 NHL playoffs and caught a lot of people off guard as they made their run to the Cup Final. As defending West champs this season, they didn’t have that luxury of sneaking up on teams. Obviously they handled it well by winning the President’s Trophy, but did having to live up to expectations and dealing with getting the best effort from opposing teams each night make the Predators even better?
JCF: Even though they won the Western Conference Final, many “experts” picked Nashville to be third or fourth in the conference this year. As the season progressed and they won more games, the rest of the NHL started to see how good this team can be.
To be honest, I felt the Predators played to their level of competition this year. Half of their home losses came against no-playoff teams. They were forced to come from behind, forced overtime, and saw games go to shootouts. They were tested all season. I think it was a good way to sharpen themselves for the postseason.
JetsNation: On a scale of “knowing Gary Bettman will be booed when he presents the Stanley Cup” to “expecting the Washington Capitals to make the Stanley Cup final” .. How is your confidence level in Pekka Rinne?
JCF: I was able to attend Predators practice yesterday. The team was flying up and down the ice really quick and peppering goalies with shot after shot. Rinne was moving with easy and saw the puck well, even in traffic. He is focused and determined, moving with ease and confidence. Of course, the defense needs to help prevent players like Patrik Laine and Blake Wheeler from obtaining high-danger chances. But, I am extremely confident in Rinne. Let’s say “there are catfish on the ice before puck drop” confident.